UNITED NATIONS — An appearance by America's U.N. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, on a World Economic Forum discussion panel — alongside two Iranian officials, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, and a close aide to President Ahmadinejad, Samare Hashemi — was unauthorized by the State Department and angered Secretary of State Rice, Washington sources said yesterday.
The panel, titled "Understanding Iran's Foreign Policy," took place in Davos, Switzerland, and dealt mostly with Iran's nuclear policy, just as Security Council diplomats — including America's U.N. mission headed by Mr. Khalilzad — began to forge a new resolution that would impose new punitive measures on Iran for its refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment program, as demanded by the council.
"I'm not sure that we've come very much closer to a solution," the panel's moderator and the International Crisis Group's president, Gareth Evans, concluded at the end of the Davos discussion, which lasted more than an hour. "But we certainly had a very constructive and civilized dialogue, which is much to be wished for on these occasions."
The Bush administration policy, however, calls on all American officials to seek an authorization from the State Department before conducting dialogue with Iranian officials. The only person exempted from that restriction is the American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, who can discuss Iraq-related issues with Iranian officials on a regular basis, according to a State Department official in Washington who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Mr. Khalilzad's participation on the Davos panel was "not authorized," the official told The New York Sun yesterday, after a videotaping of the event was posted on the Web site YouTube and made the rounds among diplomats at the United Nations.
The discussion can be viewed here: www.youtube.com:80/watch?v=I0tUweJy6mk. Another Washington official said Ms. Rice "was not happy at all" about Mr. Khalilzad's appearance next to the two officials.
"There was no separate meeting, conversation, or handshake with the Iranian foreign minister, just a multilateral conversation with the moderator," Mr. Khalilzad's spokesman, Richard Grenell, said when asked about the incident.
Mr. Khalilzad has in the past been taken to task for his "independent streak." As the ambassador in Iraq, he was the first administration official to conduct direct talks with Iranian officials, which led to the current policy involving Mr. Crocker.
In addition to Mr. Khalilzad, the two Iranian officials, and the Australian-born Mr. Gareth, the stage at Davos was shared by the chairman of the Gulf-based Ithmaar Bank, Khalid Abdulla Janahi of Bahrain, and the Carnegie Moscow Center scholar, Lilia Shevtsova. The latter panelists presented the policy toward Iran from the Arab and Russian perspectives, respectively.
Mr. Khalilzad's presentation, however, did not stray much from America's talking points. While it has "the right to purse civilian nuclear program," he told the moderator, "Iran, having its own enrichment capability, which takes you some two-thirds … [of the way] toward acquiring a nuclear weapon, is too risky for the world."
In New York, the representatives of the 10 elected members of the Security Council met at the British U.N. mission Monday, where they received copies of an agreement reached in Berlin last week among the foreign ministers of China, Russia, America, France, Britain, and Germany, to impose a third round of council sanctions against Iran. After studying the document, the council members are expected to start deliberating the proposal next week.
While Western ambassadors expressed confidence about quick council action, especially since Russia and China are "on board," some council members indicated that the new proposal would not be accepted very quickly. "We need to go back to basics," Indonesia's U.N. ambassador, Marty Natalegawa, told the Sun yesterday. Is this proposal "symbolic, as a form of punishment, or sign of displeasure, or is it an instrument to affect change?" If the sponsors want his vote, he added, "We need to be convinced of the efficacy of such an approach at this time."